Saturday, April 26, 2014

Iceland, Part III

Our last few days in Iceland were spent in Reykjavik. Chris was presenting part of his thesis work at a statistics conference and I was mostly chillin. We also spent some time exploring the city.

Reykjavik is right on the coast. From our hotel, where the conference was held, we walked along the water to the old part of town. Chris's goal for the day was to go to the museum built around the excavated location of one of the first Viking long houses in the area. As you could probably tell from his first post, Viking have been a popular topic of conversations here.

Our first stop on the walk was Hallgrímskirkja - the largest church in Iceland. The church was designed to resemble the basalt lava flows so it stands out against the backdrop of the other city buildings. It almost resembles a giant space ship. Unfortunately mass was in session so we were prevented from seeing the inside, which supposedly has a large organ.

The next stop on our self-tour of the city was Reykjavik Roasters for a quick coffee, then we headed to the Reykjavik 871 +/-2 museum to see the exhibition of the Viking age longhouse which dates back to about 930 AD. Chris read every single exhibit information screen, though the museum itself was a little underwhelming. A sword or two would have gone a long way in Chris's book.

After the museum we wandered around the old harbor district, we were going to grab some fish and chips but sadly the restaurant was being remodeled! Instead we found a little bar serving taster flights of some of the local brews. All in all there wasn't a whole lot going on in the city at this time of year, but we enjoyed walking around and getting some sunshine despite the cold. Our down jackets and warm hats have been the standard trip uniform.

Even though it was a short trip, a mixture of business and vacation, we always have fun visiting new places.  One thing is for sure, we both want to get out on more hikes!

Our last experience in Iceland was a unfortunately run-in with an airport strike which resulted in a 4 hours delay in our flight. Sigh. But the trip itself was relatively painless, and a couple movies later we were back in Seattle.

Iceland, Part II

After a long first day in Iceland driving around the Golden Circle, we settled in to our guesthouse in Hveragerdi, a little town 30 minutes southeast of Reykjavik. As Chris mentioned in his previous post, the town is best known for its geothermal activity which means lots of naturally heated hot tubs and greenhouses. After driving around all day we couldn't wait to soak in the hot tubs just outside our room. The two hot tubs overlooked a beautiful river flowing around the edge of town. After an early Easter dinner, which included some delicious salmon lox and perfectly cooked cod, we spent a couple hours just soaking and relaxing. At this time of year is stays light pretty late at night so by the time we went to bed it was about midnight. This might also have been a result of the three hour nap we took immediately after we arrived.

We arrived in Iceland on Easter Sunday. Little did we know this would pose a few challenges. Like most of our trips we had planned to stop by a grocery store upon arrival to stock up on snacks and lunch supplies, so that we didn't have to spend a fortune on meals during the day. We discovered, however, that (1) grocery stores are very difficult to find and (2) they were all closed or had very limited hours. Luckily we had brought a few snacks for the plane and were able to buy a sandwich at the airport before leaving. Not the best set of provisions.

For our second day exploring, Chris picked out a hike along the southern coast. We woke up early and made sure to eat a hearty breakfast. The guesthouse had a great spread complete with homemade raisin bread and brown bread, mmmmm. Chris also picked up a "hard boiled" egg. You know how many breakfast buffets in Europe have hard boiled eggs with those little egg dishes to eat them out of? Well here, as we quickly found out when Chris cracked the top of his egg open with a knife, they serve raw eggs which guests can boil themselves in the hot springs outside. Oops.

The drive along the coast to our hike brought us through more rugged plains, flanked by snow covered mountains on one side and ocean on the other. The hike started out at a big waterfall. The falls were a major tourist bus stop, though most people only climb the stairs up to the top of the falls. We, however, continued along the trail which winds up the valley tracing the river's path. Along the way the river goes over 22 different drops which meant we got to see new waterfalls around every turn. As we wound our way up, around a few hairy spots where the trail got too close to the cliff along the river's edge, we got closer and closer to the snow. Eventually we were walking in about 10 inches.

By the end, were we came to the mutual decision to turn around, we felt like we were high on the mountain in an open bowl - which we kind of were! The view was spectacular. The scenery along the trail, the river and waterfalls, the mountains ahead of us rising to craggy peaks, and the open expanse behind us which gave us a few over the delta and ocean. It was definitely a highlight of the trip!

After the hike to continued along the coast for a short while to see the black sand beaches outside Vik. The wind had picked up so we only lasted about 30 minutes walking along the beach. Chris debated taking a dip but decided against it and we returned home to hit in the hot tub instead. Another great day on our Iceland adventure!

Monday, April 21, 2014


It's been a while, but Emma and I have hit the road again. As Emma put it, "I haven't been out of the country in years!" A biking trip to Girona? "Two years ago!", she said. A family trip to Baja? "Last January!" Ski trip to Whistler, Canada? "That doesn't count!"

Iceland sure counts.

I've been watching a show called Vikings. It's a violent drama created by the History Channel. The script is loosely based on the history/mythology of the early interactions between vikings and England.

Everywhere I look, I can't help but think about what it might have been like for these early settlers. That beach? Perfect for a viking ship. That hill? Perfect for lookouts to see ships coming across rough seas. That patch of forest? Perfect for building long houses that are a bit protected by the elements.

The people aren't safe from my daydreams about vikings. That lady helping us at checkin? Could've been a shield-maiden. That cologne-laden, bench-pressing bro at the car rental? Probably really good with a sword.

Walking out of the airport, we were greeted by some hail and a faint whiff of sulfur. We're starting with the typical tourist route -- a 3 hour drive called the Golden Circle. Many do this by bus, but we remembered how much enjoyment we get from 1) not being on a bus, 2) not being tied to their schedule, 3) seeing things at our own pace, and again 4) not being on a bus, so we rented a car for our first few days.

The circle passes through some barren rolling hills and goes around a pristine lake, complete with a small island and snowy hills overlooking it. Houses are rare; at each sighting you immediately question how someone could survive there. It's possible these are summer homes but they look like farmhouses and they seem months away from having any sort of soil to farm.

The weather here can change fast. We had three or four separate snow flurries followed by blue sky 10 minutes later. That made the narrow road a bit more interesting, especially whenever a bus came the opposite way.

The drive focuses on a stop at a nice waterfall and a stop with a few geysers. Apparently this is the original namesake for all geysers. We agree we've seen a few of these things before. However it's nice to see them all in one place.

The balcony of our room overlooks a small stream that winds through town. Across from us is a bare hillside dotted with small puffs of steam coming from geothermal vents. It feels like you're sitting in the crater of a volcano. It's a bit unsettling to realize we probably are doing just that!